Saturday, June 15, 2024

History: The Real Story behind the 1897 Benin Invasion by the British Force


How well do you know Nigeria’s Ancient history from the periods of the slave trade to colonial rule, to now? Do you know the event that occurred in 1897?  If you don’t, come join me to find out.

The Benin Expedition of 1897 was a punitive one carried out by the British Force led by Sir Harry Rawson in response to the ambush of a previous British party under the Acting Consul then, General James Phillips, of the Niger Coast Protectorate. What really happened then? Let’s find out.

Before we continue Citizen, we would like to wish you a happy new month and thank you for always being by our side  .

At the end of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Benin had managed to retain its independence and the Oba exercised a trade monopoly which the British did not like. The Kingdom was independent of British control and pressure was placed on it by figures such as Consul James Robert Phillips and Captain Gallwey who were pushing for British annexation of the Empire and the removal of the Oba.
It was the Benin Massacre in January of that year that in fact, led to the punitive expedition. Consul Phillips had earlier received permission from the British to visit Benin City and inquire of the Oba why he didn’t fulfil the trade agreement made with the British. In late December 1896, without waiting for a reply or approval, he went ahead.

He sent a message to the Oba, claiming that his present mission was to discuss trade and peace and demanded entry to the territory. Ahead of Phillips, he had already sent an envoy bearing several gifts for trade. It was during this time that the Oba was celebrating the Igue festival, and he sent word that he did not wish to see the British at the time, and he would send a word in a month or two when he was ready to receive just Philips and one Jakri chief.

Oba Ovoramwen
Oba Ovoramwen

“On 4 January 1897, Phillips and his entire party were ambushed along their journey to Benin City, at Ugbine village near Gwato. British officers and African porters were both slaughtered. Only two British survived their wounds, Alan Boisragon and Ralph Locke. Within the week, news had made it to London of the massacre. This event led to the mounting of the Punitive Expedition.”

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter


In retaliation, the British sent forces led by Rear Admiral Harry Rawson, commander of the Royal Naval forces. They laid waste to the city and plundered religious artefacts, mnemonics and artworks.

The British with their plundered loot

The people of Benin in their attempt to prevent the invasion of their city offered many human sacrifices to their gods; thereby making the city reek of blood as described by journalists. Inside the abandoned palace, a terrible sight awaited the British. The Oba in panic at what he had done and in fear of a retaliatory attack, had embarked in a great mass of human sacrifice in order to stave off full disaster. Bodies of those sacrificed by the Oba laid in pits and many hung crucified in trees.

In all, it was a terrible event that led to the end of and the conquest of Ancient Benin City by the British Forces. I hope you had fun reading this article and learned a bit about Nigeria’s history.


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